Tuesday, July 19, 2011

It's Been Awhile...

My bad. I haven't posted any updates on my AZ adventures in a long ass time. The end of the school year and beginning of summer has been crazily busy! I will be filling in the posts that I should've done weeks ago over the next few days. But first, a few highlights of the past two months:

- my first trip to Georgia!
- Son Zeng (Last Bell, which is the last day of school here and the Azerbaijani version of graduation)
- the second annual Zaqatala Summer Art Program (a weeklong arts camp)
- more hiking!
- my first trip to the beach!
- moved to a new place!

... and tons more awesome shiznit!

I am entering the last five months of my time here in Azerbaijan, and I can't help but think about all the things I still want to do here. It's going to be another crazy few months, so my apologies in advance for not continuously updating the blog.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tbilisi is Awesome

I signed up to take the LSAT exam in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, in June. I live in a region of Azerbaijan that is relatively close to Georgia; not including the time spent at border control, it takes about 3 hours to get there by car.

I heard from other PCV's here in Azerbaijan that Tbilisi was the land of milk and honey, were the roads were paved with pork and xacapuri (a cheesy bread dish common on Georgia) and the rivers were flowing with beer and Georgian wine. I took the marshrutka from Zaqatala to Tbilisi and I pretty much instantly fell in love with the city. It's gorgeous. The place is nestled in between hills and is divided by the Kür river (which also flows through Azerbaijan and ends up in the Caspian Sea).
(btdubs this picture was taken from the ferris wheel at the top of the mountain overlooking the city)

I only spent a few days in Tbilisi, most of which were divided between meeting/hanging out with new people, studying for the LSATs, and then finding the test location to take the friggin test. (In retrospect, I should not have combined my first trip to Tbilisi with taking such an important exam (Distraction FAIL!))

One of the first things I noticed as I was walking around the city was that there was a giant ferris wheel at the top of the hill in the city. I thought it would be similar to the one we have in our Heydar Park in Zaqatala... I thought wrong. It turned out to be just one ride of many in an amusement park that was built on top of the mountain. The ferris wheel had enclosed cabins WITH AIR CONDITIONING from which you could see the entire city below, it was such a wonderful view. I love amusement parks in America (I've always wanted to be a roller coaster tester...those people whose job it is to ride the coasters and then judge their awesomeness). But it wasn't until I was in the Mtatsminda Park that I realized how much I missed amusement parks. Summers in the US for me are filled with trips to Six Flags or to the beach or to a water park...all of which I didn't really know was missing until I went to this park in Tbilisi. I was so in awe of the rides that I didn't even get on any of them, I just walked around the park in shock that it existed. I did get a chance to take a few awesome pictures like this one though:

I only spent 3 days in Tbilisi and I can't wait until I go back. The food is delicious and cheap, the people are friendly, and the culture is really interesting. I had never heard of the city before I came to Azerbaijan and learned more about this part of the world, but I am so glad I did. If anyone reading this blog post is thinking about making a trip to Tbilisi, let me make that decision for you: GO! (And if you do go, make sure to try the lobiani!)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Son Zəng

The last day of the school year here in Azerbaijan, May 31st, is called "Son Zəng" or last bell. For everyone not graduating, it is just a day to celebrate the year ending. For those in 11th grade, (schools here go from first to eleventh grades) it is a commencement/graduation ceremony filled with joy and sadness.

It is a time of happiness for the obvious reasons... who doesn't love getting a diploma? Here in Azerbaijan students stay in the same class with the same people for pretty much their entire school careers. This means that Fulano and Fulana from your first grade class are also in your 2nd, 3rd, 4th... and 11th grade classes. Unless you move schools or have some other issue, you're stuck with the same classmates for 11 years. Since the classes are around 15 kids each, this means that students here tend to get really close with their classmates. It wasn't until recently that I began to understand that the sinif yoldaşı relationship is a deep one and not just a superficial "we were in the same algebra class in 5th grade" type deal. So graduating in the 11th grade, especially if you will be leaving your town to go to university, is a big time of change for the students who have formed such close friendships and bonds.

Last year I did not attend any Son Zəng ceremonies because I was traveling in another part of Azerbaijan on May 31st. This year however I made sure to stay in Zaqatala, especially since I knew so many 11th graders who would be graduating. I attended the Russian School's Son Zəng with my friend Könül, and we had a blast. We got there a bit late but I don't think we missed too much since we were still there for another two hours. The ceremony was held in the backyard of the school, and each graduating class took turns going on the stage and singing songs they dedicated to their teachers and classmates. Then some teachers made some speeches, some students made speeches, some kids got diplomas, everyone started dancing, and finally a little girl in the first grade went around (on the shoulders of an 11th grader) ringing a bell. There were tons of flowers and giant stuffed animals, as well as confetti. I congratulated all the students I knew and took pictures with them so I would remember the day.

Below are two examples of my favorite part of the ceremony: the classes coordinated their outfits so they would all match! Check out these lovely ladies dresses and this boy band next to them:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Anecdotal Evidence

A few random things that have happened recently that I wanted to share/remember:

- There is an old man who sells individually wrapped portions of cotton candy. He is usually found sitting in places where lots of people walk by (the big stairs leading to our park, an intersection, etc). The other day I saw him near my street, sitting beneath the shade of a tree, with his cardboard box full of cotton candy in front of him. The box was labeled STERILE SYRINGES (in english). I can't decide if that's a recycling WIN or FAIL...

- I was walking near the post office by an empty plaza, behind an older gentleman who was walking in front of me. I heard quick little footsteps behind me and turned to see a running toddler with the biggest smile on his face. I looked to see where he was running to when he passed me to get to the old man. He grabbed the man's hand and looked up at him with those huge eyes that only kids have and said "Baba!" (Grandfather!). The old man looked down at his grandson, laughed, and picked up the child into his arms.

- I was having a conversation with one of my friends/students about Neruda's Poema 20, "Puedo escribir los versos mas tristes esta noche." We read it in English and then had a discussion on love. She shared with me a saying someone had told her once, "Love is forever, but the candidates are always changing." I laughed in agreement. We continued talking until it was time for me to go, when she said "Jessica, let me tell you something, it is something I tell to all my friends: Let yourself to be in love."

- I was coming home after a few days in another town, tired from all the travel, and I hobbled my way off the marshrutka at the stop near my house. As soon as I touched ground, I saw one of my convo club students coming towards me with a huge smile on his face and a bag full of alcha (unripe plums). He gave me the bag and said he remembered that I wanted some fruit (I had mentioned it in a previous convo club), so he gave it to me as a gift and said "Nuş olsun!"

Monday, May 23, 2011

I'm not really a fan of cats. Sorry catlovers. I don't like how they look at me with those evil eyes and sinister gazes. And they have those claws that hurt like a mofo when they try to latch on to you. But I can see the appeal. They're loyal and c'mon, who doesn't think kittens are the cutest thing ever? I mean who can deny this face?

That said, the other day the strangest/scariest/funniest thing happened to me. I live in the basement/ground floor of a house that I share with a host family. It's not really a basement because I have pretty large windows, but my floor is a few feet below ground level. This is important to note, because it means that from the outside, my windows go down to the floor. Since it is kinda basement-y, my place tends to get a little muggy and is usually in need of ventilation, especially once it starts getting warmer out. So I've been leaving one of the upper windows open. EPIC FAIL!

Why was it an epic fail you ask? Well, because the other night I was sleeping (I am a deep sleeper and can stay asleep through anything) and woke up for some reason in the middle of the night. I was a bit cold so I tried to pull the covers over me, except I couldn't because they were unusually heavy. I reached over to check if I was just tangled in the quilt when I felt FUR. FUR!!!!

I let out a small scream and sat up in bed, not really being able to see because it was too dark. I looked next to me, and saw that there was a giant grey cat just lying there! By the way, I DON'T OWN A CAT.

"OH MY GOD," I said to myself out loud. I stood up from the bed and shooed the cat off, and it proceeded to jump off and just sit on the floor staring at me. I then ran towards the cat yelling "GET!" so it would go away. It finally got the message and ran towards the windowsill, jumped 3 feet to climb on the sill, and then another 3 feet to jump out of the small window that was open. I then hurried over and closed the window, and in disbelief and shock went back to my bed and fell asleep again. It was 4AM.

Upon waking in the morning my mind was filled with questions. How the hell did that cat know how to get inside? Had he been in here before? Have I been unknowingly sleeping with an effin cat the entire time I've lived here?? Does this cat just go around jumping into people's houses/beds? If its that easy for a cat to get in and just chill on my bed, have other animals been comin' up in here too? And then the full realization set in: I SLEPT NEXT TO A STRAY CAT, W. T. F. !!

So yeah, that happened. Which means I'm still not that big a fan of cats.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Eurovision 2011

I CALLED IT! I'm about 95% sure that when I first heard Azerbaijan's Eurovision 2011 entry "Running Scared," I told someone that we would win. AND WE DID! WOOOOOO YEAH TAKE THAT OTHER COUNTRIES IN THE EUROVISION CONTEST! In the rare chance that you have no idea what I'm talking about and haven't heard the song, here it is:

You may be asking yourself, 'But Jessica, WTF is Eurovision?' Well, it is a song contest held annually in which participating European countries send their 'best' (usually internationally unknown) song/artists. Each country's selection gets to sing their song on live TV, at which point viewers in all the participating nations must vote for their favorite (citizens cannot vote for their own country). Apparently the contest has launched a few unknowns into stardom, including ABBA, who won in 1974 for Sweden, and Celine Dion, who won in 1988 for Switzerland. If for some reason you want a more in-depth history/description of the contest wikipedia's got you covered.

This year's contest was held last weekend in Germany, and aired in Azerbaijan in the middle of the night because of the time difference. The country that wins the contest each year gets to host the competition the following year. Last year's winner was Germany's Lena who sang "Satellites," hence why the 2011 contest was held in Dusseldorf. Here's last year's winner:

Since Azerbaijan won this year this means that next year's contest will be held in BAKU! I am both excited and angered by this news. Why? Because I'll be leaving in December which means I won't get to be here for all the Eurovision festivities next year. It'd be like living in South Africa for 2+ years and then moving a few months BEFORE the World Cup. It's going to be EPIC! I want to go! So if anyone reading this would like to sponsor me for a return visit to Azerbaijan next May it'd be greatly appreciated... ... ... no? no takers? Oh well I tried....

And on that note I will leave you with one of the best Eurovision songs Azerbaijan has ever submitted:

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It Makes Me ILL

For some reason, I’ve been getting mad sick lately. Well, at least sick more often. Since January I’ve gotten a cold (or something like it) 3 times, and each time it’s pretty much made me bedridden for at least 2 days. So either my immune system sucks, or something is changing here in Zaqatala. I’m going to assume that it can’t be me and blame it on global warming, because that’s clearly the more logical solution.

One of the bright sides of being ill frequently has been that I’ve done two things: 1) caught up on tv show watching (who knew the West Wing was so good?!?) and 2) experimented with soup making. I’ve made noodle soups, lentil soups, and most recently (with the help of my sitemate Jane) a matzoh ball soup! Yeah, you read that correctly, matzoh ball soup! Apparently I had to move 9000 miles away from New York to know what a matzoh ball was.

“But Jessica, where did you get the matzoh?”
Well faithful reader, Jane and I were given matzoh when we stayed in Oğuz during our Easter trip. The host family we stayed with were given matzoh by a friend who brought it from Israel, and I don’t think they liked it too much because they pretty much gave us the entire package! So yeah, we made matzoh ball soup, and it was delicious.

I don’t know what it is about soups that cure colds, maybe its all mental, but luckily its worked on me during the miserable times I’ve been ill this year.